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Chiu, target of EQCA blast, backs conversion therapy ban

by Alex Madison

Assemblyman David Chiu. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Assemblyman David Chiu. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu (D), a straight ally who campaigned on a promise to fully support LGBT issues, found himself the target of an email blast from Equality California last week, indicating that his support for a bill banning conversion therapy was uncertain.

The email was in advance of a vote Tuesday on Assembly Bill 2943 by gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell). The bill would ban conversion therapy - or sexual orientation change efforts - for anyone as fraud under the state's consumer protection laws.

California already has a similar law that bans such practices for minors; Low's bill would extend that to adults.

According to the EQCA email, the statewide LGBT advocacy group feared there were not enough votes to approve the bill in committee.

"For too long, LGBTQ people have been abused by those who are supposed to be caring for their well-being," EQCA's March 30 email stated, referring to medical professionals and others who tell patients they can "pray away the gay." "That's why we're sponsoring AB 2943, which would ban these practices in California once and for all.

"But we don't have enough votes yet to pass the bill, and we need you to tell [Assemblyman] David Chiu to vote yes on AB 2943 when it comes up for a vote," EQCA's email stated.

Chiu told the Bay Area Reporter Monday that he intended to vote for the bill.

"Conversion therapy is not only incredibly cruel, but dangerous to a person's mental health and contributes greatly to the stigma of being gay or transgender," Chiu said. "The practice is deceptive and the state of California should treat it is as such. We will do whatever we need to to see it passed."

The bill was passed by the Committee of Privacy And Consumer Protection Tuesday afternoon on a bipartisan vote of 8-2. The bill even received Republican support from Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin), who voted in support of the bill along with all seven of the Democratic committee members. The bill will now head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for consideration, then to the Assembly floor for a full vote, said Low.

Sam Garrett-Pate, communications director for EQCA, said the bill was one of the organization's "top priorities" and said passing the bill was "common sense."

He did not specify why the organization sent the email blast about Chiu.

"He's got a really strong record with the LGBT community and we would hope he supports it," Garrett-Pate said.

Garrett-Pate compared the bill to the litigation by California against tobacco companies for deceitful advertising of cigarettes.

"We think this is common sense," he said. "It's a clear part of the California legislation to protect and defend the LGBT community by banning such a horrible and abusive practice as conversion therapy."

Conversion therapy attempts to change the sexual orientation of members of the LGBT community through therapy, hypnosis, and even electroshock. The practice has long been discredited by the medical community and is illegal for children in California - a bill that was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2012 survived court challenges in January after a panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied a rehearing by the full court.

AB 2943 would allow victims legal recourse to sue practitioners. If passed, those found engaging in conversion therapy could be stripped of their license to practice in California. It also makes it illegal to advertise conversion therapy.

Low, who also chairs the Legislative LGBT Caucus, said the bill "makes it clear that trying to change a person's sexual orientation is a fraudulent practice and significantly harmful to a patient's mental health."

He continued, "We want to build a case for the state of California that ensures we are a state of inclusion, not exclusion, and to clarify once and for all that indeed conversion therapy is fraudulent."

As the B.A.R. previously reported, Low said the legislation would apply not only to psychologists and psychiatrists but also to any medical providers who are licensed under the state's Department of Consumer Affairs.

Opposition to the bill includes conservative organizations such as the Capitol Resource Center, Alliance Defending Freedom, and the California Family Alliance, which claims AB 2943, "violates the First Amendment by banning books and church events to help people live according to their faith."

The bill is part of a larger bill package for the 2018 legislative session that focuses on the needs of youth and health issues within the LGBT community. Low authored the nonbinding Assembly Concurrent Resolution 172, which would provide an official apology for the state's past discriminatory laws that oppressed and persecuted the LGBT community.

Additionally, as previously reported, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced the nonbinding Senate Concurrent Resolution 110, which calls on medical professionals to discontinue the use of sex assignment and normalizing surgery performed on intersex infants.

California was the first state to ban conversion therapy for children. Most recently, Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed a bill last month that bans conversion therapy for people 18 and under. Eleven states and Washington, D.C. now protect children from the debunked therapy.

Most major medical associations have discredited the practice, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Psychological Association, which all consider the practice to be harmful and ineffective.

Alex Madison can be reached at a.madison@ebar.com.

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